Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sadlers Creek State Park (Blog Hike #374)

Trail: Bike Trail
Hike Location: Sadlers Creek State Park
Geographic Location: west of AndersonSC (34.42707, -82.83098)
Length: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2012
Overview: An easy to moderate forest hike with views of Lake Hartwell in the leafless months.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Anderson, take US 29 south 10 miles to SR 187.  Turn right on SR 187.  Take SR 187 0.8 miles to Sadlers Creek Rd. and turn left on Sadlers Creek Rd.  Sadlers Creek Rd. deadends at the park entrance, where you will need to pay a nominal fee to enter the park.  The easiest way to find the trailhead is to drive the main park road all the way to its end, turn around when it dead ends, and drive back about 500 feet to the grassy area that serves as the parking lot.  The area is on the left as you drive in or on the right after you have turned around.

The hike: Located on the east shore of Lake Hartwell, rustic 395 acre Sadlers Creek State Park owes its existence to the lake on its western border.  When the Army Corps of Engineers built Lake Hartwell in the early 1960’s, they set aside several parcels of land along the lakeshore for recreation.  This Corps parcel was leased to the State of South Carolina for the creation of this park.  (Note: Some of this background information was obtained from an interview with the park’s ranger conducted by Dr. Robert Angel.  Dr. Angel runs a fine blog for Carolina Considered that contains descriptions of numerous campgrounds in the region; here is a link: http://mobilestudiotravels.blogspot.com/ )
            With its 37 lakefront campsites and large boat ramp, the lake remains the park’s main attraction.  In addition to lake access, the park also boasts a small playground area and two hiking trails.  The short 0.5 mile Pine Grove Nature Trail (not described in this blog) starts at the Park Office and takes visitors on a short loop just above the lake.  The more substantial Bike Trail is open to both hikers and mountain bikers, but the park is sufficiently rural to make encounters with other trail users few and far between.  In fact, during my visit on a warm Wednesday afternoon, I did not encounter another traveler on the trail of the wheeled or foot variety. 
Trailhead
            The trail is laid out in a deformed figure-eight configuration with the trailhead at the far end of the west lobe.  Start at an information board that contains a trail map and a brown wooden sign that says, very simply, “TRAIL.”  The wide single-track dirt trail heads east with Lake Hartwell visible through the trees to your right.  The forest at Sadlers Creek contains patches of broadleaf forest and patches of pine forest, and the trail goes back and forth between the two varieties throughout its length.
            After passing through a shallow ravine, at 0.9 miles the trail crosses the paved park road that leads to the park office and reenters the forest on the other side.  Just past this road crossing, pay attention to the tiered features in the ground around you.  All of the land at Sadlers Creek is reverting farmland, and these tiers are evidence of terracing, a soil and water conservation practice used on farms in the 1930’s.  The terraces collect water, thereby reducing erosion and the need for irrigation.  Remnants of these terraces can be seen on many Georgia and South Carolina trails, though the terraces are not usually as obvious as they are here.
Terraces along the trail
            1.5 miles into the hike, the other arm of the trail’s western lobe exits to the left.  The Bike Trail is marked with metal diamond-shaped markers nailed to trees, but no such marker can be seen at this intersection when you are hiking this direction.  Thus, you may not notice the exiting trail.  Fortunately, a metal marker can be seen when hiking the other direction, so you will have no trouble finding this intersection on your return route.
            Now hiking the middle segment of trail that connects the two lobes, at 1.8 miles the trail passes through a sunny area created by a gap in the large trees.  Some tall grass beside the trail wisps against your legs.  2 miles into the hike, the trail makes a sweeping 180-degree right hand turn as it begins to trace the perimeter of a grassy area that contains a baseball field.  This turn is not marked, and the trail never exits the woods.  If you come out into the field (as I did), you need to turn around and retrace your steps 30 feet to regain the trail, which goes off to the left when walking back from the field.
Sweeping turn near baseball field
            At 2.5 miles, the trail crosses the paved campground road and reenters the pine forest on the other side.  After gradually descending via a couple of wide switchbacks, Lake Hartwell can be seen downhill through the trees to the left as the trail curves right to head south.  3 miles into the hike, you reach the T-intersection that forms the trail’s eastern lobe.  The blazes are easier to follow if you turn left here and hike the loop clockwise.
            More partially obstructed views of Lake Hartwell can be had to the left as the trail gradually curves right to head west.  On my hike, the forest was alive with activity.  Common songbirds chirped pleasantly overhead, lizards scampered off of the trail in front of me, and chipmunks and squirrels constantly rustled through the leaf cover on the forest floor.  On two occasions I even managed to send white-tailed deer fleeing through the forest.
Trail marker
            After angling right to cross the campground road near its deadend, the trail makes a sharp right turn at the far end of its eastern lobe.  Metal diamond markers appear before and after this turn, but the turn is sharp enough that they may be difficult to spot unless you are looking for them.  If you find yourself heading directly toward the lake on an increasingly faint trail, you have probably missed this turn.  Now heading east, the trail crosses the campground road for the third time to reach a children’s play area.  Some picnic tables nearby make for great shady places to rest just past the midpoint of this hike.
Returning to the western lobe
            From the play area, the trail heads downhill to quickly close the eastern lobe.  Turn left and retrace your steps 1.5 miles along the middle segment to reach the western lobe, where you should turn right at 5.4 miles into the hike.  A metal marker bearing a black arrow pointing right marks this turn.  You are now hiking on the newest trail in the park, a trail built by William Masek of Anderson as an Eagle Scout project.  Because the treadway is not as firmly packed as the older trail, you will need to watch the metal markers to stay on the right path.  On the bright side, the broadleaf forest here on the steeper north side of the park’s peninsula is some of the oldest and best in the park.
            After crossing the main park road, the trail heads slightly downhill first into pine forest and then into the mature broadleaf.  Lake Hartwell is now well below you to your right.  At 5.9 miles, you cross a paved road that leads to the park’s main boat ramp.  Another 0.6 miles of walking over gentle undulations will bring you to the trail’s end at a road leading to the park’s secondary campground.  A left turn and short level walk will return you to your car at the hiking trailhead and complete the hike.

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